FEELING HOT, HOT, HOT (AND NOT)
by Kestryl Lowrey
published September 12, 2008
A Great Place to Be From
now playing Off Broadway at the Kraine Theater
through September 27
When I say A Great Place to Be
From is hot, I am only partially referencing the steady increase of the theatre’s temperature as the evening progressed. Maybe the air conditioner was off so that the audience would feel as if they were experiencing a monstrous
heat wave alongside the characters; maybe it was just so we could better hear their compelling stories. Either way, the sweat contributed to the experience.
Beyond a physical descriptor, heat unites the tales recounted
throughout the production. A heat wave blackout changes one man’s relationship in a way he never
expected. A blistering afternoon leads to gunshots.
An impulse to turn on an air conditioner transforms into accusations. More a collection of
monologues than a narrative play, the production follows the passions that unravel as temperatures rise.
It might seem difficult to craft a cohesive, appealing, and original
set of monologues around a theme as ubiquitous as “heat,” but playwright Norman Lasca succeeds in wringing humor and emotion from his
subject. Writing working-class male characters convincingly, without descending to shallow
machismo or buffoonery, can be a challenge for any playwright, but Lasca’s complicated masculinities shimmer through the haze.
The production cools after the intermission, shifting from the tension and frustration of the earlier characters to the distance
and malaise of a rich woman who wants to be pregnant. It’s not that this final monologue lacks
the sharp wit of the others, or that the actress doesn’t give it her all (I can’t fault it on either of these counts). Really, it just didn’t seem to fit with the other pieces in the play. After the heat of the first three
monologues, sitting in an increasingly warm theatre, I had little interest in listening to anyone rhapsodize about the glories of central air. The
blistering swelter which drove the rest of the production seemed only tangential to this closing monologue.
Geordie Broadwater’s direction keeps each monologue tight, helping each performer to find the rhythm of Lasca’s
words. The characters are distinct and specific, in the ways that they interact with the heat,
the space, and the audience. All of the actors deserve commendation, but Matthew Johnson and
Jacques Roy both earn particular notice, for their invigorating and nuanced performances. The
set, lighting, and sound design all support the production without overburdening it, allowing the audience to devote their attention to the
explosive events of the play. Attentive to details as minor as accentuated sweat stains on one
character’s attire, Mike Floyd’s costume designs help create the heat wave onstage.
A Great Place to Be From is
the best way to experience a summer heat wave: sizzling humor and scorching drama, all with the comfort of knowing that it’ll be a whole lot
cooler outside of the theater.
kestryl.lowrey @ stageandcinema.com